NEW YORK - Starting on March 24th, Sotheby’s New York will host a lady. But not just any lady! Born in the 19th century, fiercely standing over the 20th century, and today, at the dawn of the 21st century, she is more current than ever. In all her majesty she will greet employees and clients alike. You may know her as Lady Liberty, Miss Liberty, the Statue of Liberty, but her proper title is: La Liberté Éclairant Le Monde – Liberty Enlightening the World - by Fréderic-Auguste Bartholdi

Fréderic-Auguste Bartholdi, La Liberté Éclairant Le Monde – Liberty Enlightening the World. Estimate $800,000–1,200,000.

This iconic figure has a mythological presence, proportions drawn from antiquity, and breathtaking modernity. Goddess like in her stature and classically dressed, she wears a crown of seven lances representing the seven continents and seas, and holds a flame enlightening humankind and a plaque engraved with the date of the Declaration of Independence inscribed: July IV MDCCLXXVI.

The French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) was accustomed to working on a monumental scale. He created numerous public statues such as the enormous stone Lion de Belfort, France, the equestrian bronze Vercingetorix in Clermont-Ferrand, France and in New York, the Lafayette and Washington monument in Morningside Park and the Lafayette statue in Union Square. However, it was the fallout of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the loss of his native city – Colmar in Alsace – that fired within him a deep feeling of nationalism that is reflected in the subject matter of so many of his works.

Construction of the Statue of Liberty. © Maurice Branger / Roger Viollet.

Erected in New York city in 1886, the creative process for La Liberté Éclairant Le Monde had started as early as 1865 when Bartholdi met, the now forgotten, Edouard de Laboulaye in the small village of Gatigny in Normandie. Laboulaye was the French author of a three-volume work on The History of the United-States, a professor of comparative law at the College de France, an admirer of American institutions, and an emblematic figure of French liberalism; it was Laboulaye who had the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty. Fouled by French Imperialism and fervent moderate Republicans, Bartholdi and Laboulaye entertained philosophical and political discussions concerning endeavours to unify the people of the world and the political ideal of the fight for liberalism.

The template for the ear and the life-size finger. Photo Roger-Viollet.

 “The flame shall represent knowledge, education and the overcoming of false idols. The woman, as both a sister and a mother evokes justice, pity, equality, abundance and peace. This Liberty, “our liberty,” will be watching over the cradle of her children and inspiring moral behavior.”

What country better embodies a fair political model and shares the ideal philosophies of both creators? That of the new world: the United States of America, one of the oldest republics. Moreover, for Bartholdi and Laboulaye this sculpture would celebrate the communion of the two countries: the Franco-American friendship which expelled the British from the Colonies and gave birth to the American Independence.

The first model in plaster, the diorama and a copper finger in the chapel of the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, Paris, 1909 © Roger-Viollet.

On October 28th, 1886 La Liberté Éclairant Le Monde was dedicated as a gift to the United States from the people of France. She stands proud, as an icon of freedom and a lighthouse welcoming immigrants arriving from all around the world to create a melting pot of cultures and unlimited differences. At her feet lie broken iron shackles, symbolizing the end of tyranny. In our time of political and religious turmoil and existential questions, she reminds us all how important democracy is.


Lady Liberty Timeline

1871: Bartholdi’s first trip to America, and first sketches of the Statue de La Liberté

1875: First model in terracotta (1.20m)

1876: Second trip to America and exhibition of Liberty’s hand and torch at the Philadelphia centennial exhibition

1878: Exhibition of the head at the Paris Universal exhibition; Final model in Plaster (2.77m) from which lot 17 in the April 1st New York Sale has been carefully, even numerically duplicated to the micron

July 4, 1884: Ceremony, in Paris, of the donation of La Liberté Éclairant Le Monde to the U.S.A, 100 years after its declaration of independence

1888-1886: dismantling and shipping of 350 individual parts in 240 crates (one ear, a bit of the fore head, an eye, one toe, the torch, a part of the crown, one hand, along with rivets, washers and bolts), construction on site at Bedloe island, facing the ever impressive Brooklyn bridge. It is interesting to state here that the skeleton of this colossal sculpture was engineered by Gustave Eiffel, prodigy in metallic structure i.e.: la tour Eiffel

October 28, 1886: Inauguration of the statue onto its final resting site, Liberty Island in New York Harbor. (the statue 46.05m and 93m with its granite and concrete pedestal)

Tags:Auctions, New York